Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 13 October 2018


Reader, whether you like Harry Roque or not, whether you respect him or not, I think you have to agree that President Duterte treated him more like a rat or cockroach than like the dog or tuta that he was. Actually, I will go as far as to say that what happened to Roque shouldn’t even have happened to a dog. But maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Understand, Reader, that I am not privy to the inside story, if there is one. I’m sure it will come out sooner, rather than later—the President reportedly having had some frontal lobe brain injury (probably from a motorbike accident) which affects his ability to stop himself from doing or saying what immediately comes to mind. No filters. At least that is what I am told by some doctors who have been analyzing his behavior. At any rate, my information comes solely from the media and its practitioners.

So here is Roque, who gave up his position as a party-list congressman (some say he was kicked out, because of how he behaved in the De Lima hearings in Congress) to be the President’s spokesperson (others say it was because of such behavior that he got into the President’s good graces).

As presidential spokesperson, though, it must be said that he did a good job. He held his own in international fora. He defended his principal with vigor, and even attempted to explain the irrational with seeming rationality. His loyalty knew no bounds. He adopted the positions of his principal with enthusiasm, sometimes giving the impression that he was “mas papista que el Papa” (more popish than the Pope). And, as I noted last week, he did not hesitate to completely distort the truth while doing so.

One would have thought that this would have earned him some reciprocal loyalty from his principal, even while it certainly cost him the respect of his former colleagues—not the ones in Congress, but rather in the academe, in the law, and in human rights.

But apparently not. The President did not seem to trust his spokesperson Harry with the information that he was going to the hospital for some tests, leaving Harry twisting in the wind after he stoutly proclaimed that his principal did not go to the hospital. He threw cold water, publicly, on Harry’s ambitions to be a senator—with the reason(?) that he would not win because the soldiers don’t like him(!). And when Roque dared to sulk a bit at this treatment—he snuck off to Hong Kong to lick his wounds—the President immediately named another spokesperson without so much as a thank you to Roque for services rendered, much less giving him notice that he was being replaced.

The President explains it differently, of course. As far as he is concerned, the whole thing started because Roque was shilly-shallying about his Senate run. I am sure Roque will have a face-saving-for-all explanation as well. After all, the Senate still looms largely for him, and he will take all the crap he is given to gain his goal.

But that will not change the essential story. Is there a lesson in there somewhere? To thine own self be true? Never put all your eggs in one basket? Or the exact opposite, which Andrew Carnegie advocated: Put all your eggs in one basket… and watch that basket?

If 60 medical societies representing practically the whole profession, plus former health secretaries, all of whom want to reduce the number of cigarette smokers by 1 million in 2011, cannot convince Sen. Sonny Angara to increase the excise tax on tobacco (Senators JV Ejercito and Manny Pacquiao have bills on it) this year, perhaps they are putting all their eggs in only one basket.

Perhaps they should adopt a financial argument also: The senators are all anxious to reduce excise taxes on oil (election year and all that). But if they do that, the President’s infrastructure program, the unconditional cash transfer program for the poor penalized by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, and the country’s development plan are all at risk. So why not put in the tobacco excise taxes in place of the oil excises, so there will be no loss of revenue? I am against touching the oil excises, but I’m ready to take fourth best, just so as not to derail our plans.

Just saying.